The threat of organised crime in the UK is at unprecedented levels involving twice as many criminals there are soldiers in the British army, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA).
Lynne Owens, the NCA’s director general, warned that the threat from criminal gangs was ‘staggering’ and that ‘enhancing our capabilities is critical to our national security. If we don’t, the whole of UK law enforcement, and therefore the public, will feel the consequences.’
According to the NCA, there are 181,000 offenders linked to serious and organised crime in the UK – more than twice the 82,000 soldiers in the British army.
Ahead of last week’s launch of the NCA’s annual strategic assessment into the impact of organised crime, Owens claimed that ‘organised crime kills more of our citizens every year than terrorism, war and natural disasters combined.’ The agency’s annual review stated that there are more than 37,000 members involved in over 4,500 organised crime groups. Owens said that the threat from drug dealers, cyber criminals, human trafficking gangs and sexual predators was growing ‘in scale and complexity’.
Owen explained that the government ‘can’t afford not to’ spend an extra £2.7bn on fighting this threat over the next three years. This figure includes an extra £650m annually for the NCA. She suggested that this influx of much needed cash would be less than the weekly estimated cost of organised crime to the UK.
The increase of organised crime groups in the UK was attributable to a number of things, as Owen outlined: ‘It’s globalisation, it’s the rapid use and expansion of technology, it’s the development of encryption and it’s the demand for services – it’s the supply of drugs, and we are a nation unfortunately, with a high demand for drugs.’
She continued: ‘It’s paedophiles using the dark web to target children in their bedrooms, those who dominate communities using fear and violence through the trade of drugs and firearms and illicit finance and cybercrime.’
When questioned about reports indicating an overall decline in organised crime groups, Owens suggested that these reports were ‘an old-fashioned way of looking at things’. She added: ‘For example offenders operating on the dark web might only network through technology. So they won’t be part of a traditional organisation, but they are a network of like-minded individuals and that is why we get to a higher figure of offenders.’
Security minister, Ben Wallace, responded to the NCA’s call for greater investment into it by acknowledging the threat without any financial promise. ‘As criminals’ use of technology evolves so must our response. We continue to invest in the right capabilities and tools in law enforcement, across government and in partnership with the private sector.’ The NCA raised its concerns that there would be increased challenges for the UK and EU ‘if the UK were to lose enforcement or intelligence-sharing tools’.
Author Misha Glenny, who recently chaired a panel of senior officers at the NCA’s report launch earlier this week, put the surge in organised crime down to the ‘austerity drive’ (as quoted in the Guardian). ‘In the past 10 years what is really striking is how this industry has grown inside the UK. Austerity has been absolutely critical in this, partly because of the reduction in police capacity but also because of the continuing increase in inequality. A lot of victims of organised crime tend to be people on the margins who don’t have a voice. When you get an impoverishment of the population, which is what we have had over the last 10 years, you get an increase in desperation, and that opens up opportunities.’